Defusing the F-bomb
When the foul-mouthed are
foced to swallow their words, can anything but indigestion result?
BY KRIS FRIESWICK
When I was a child, the vocabulary in our home was more reminiscent of Ozzy
Osbourne than Ozzie and Harriet. At Casa Frieswick, swearing wasn't obscene; it
was just dramatic, a way to drive home a point. For instance, after a certain
amount of time waiting patiently for someone to pass the meat loaf during a
family dinner, what could more perfectly express the deprived diner's mix of
hunger, human longing, and aching anticipation than the succinct and elegant
query, "Will someone please pass the fucking meat loaf?"
As a result, I have a foul mouth. It's not that I find it difficult to complete
a sentence without swearing. I just don't see the point of trying. To me, it
would be like trying to speak without using the word "the." It is engrained in
my brain. Four-letter words are part of my vocabulary and that of every member
of my family. Much of the naughtiness associated with these words has bled away
with time and repeated use. They're just adjectives and adverbs now.
I recognize that profanity is taboo, and so I try to avoid it at work, or when
introduced to new people. But around my friends, swearing is just part of the
conversation. Or it was. Then my friends, formerly nearly as foul-mouthed as I,
started having kids. In the Parent Handbook, which was provided to this
columnist by sources I'm not at liberty to name, it is clearly stated that "no
one shall be allowed to swear around a child, because children are sponges that
absorb the language used around them" -- and what could be more horrifying than
having a child who uses "bad" language? (Raising a serial killer would
certainly rank right up there, but the Handbook doesn't address this
subject, except briefly in the section on potty training.)
There are several watershed moments when you start spending time around your
friends' new sponges . . . uh, kids. The first time you drop the
F-bomb when the little ones are within earshot -- or in the same county -- you
get "The Bad-Language Look." This look usually comes from the mother, who,
according to the Parent Handbook, is chiefly responsible for monitoring
all auditory stimulus that reaches the progeny. The father is (and I mean
nothing sexist by this comment, it is just a personal observation) completely
unaware that the F-bomb has been dropped. When you receive The Bad-Language
Look, you know it, although it has many versions and you may at first
mistakenly think that your words' content -- not their style -- has offended
the mother. If it's a first offense, the mother will often follow up with an
explanation: "Watch what you say around the child. They're like sponges, you
know." If you make the mistake more than once, you will just get the "look,"
with increasing levels of facial anger for offenses two through four. A fifth
offense may result in revocation of visiting privileges until the child goes
off to college.
I'm not opposed to refraining from bad language around kids. Not every family
is as liberal in their interpretation of the word "obscene" as my family was.
But I find that more often than not, parents' bad-language rules are often
1) pointlessly applied; 2) arbitrarily applied; and 3)
In terms of pointless application, there is absolutely no harm in saying the
word "asshole" around a four-month-old child. Indeed, there is no harm in
reciting all seven of the forbidden words, in succession, set to the music from
Barney & Friends, for two hours straight. Four-month-olds can't even
roll over onto their tummies under their own power. I think we can safely
assume that they're not yet capable of processing the nuanced societal
distinction between the word "asshole", say, and the word "diaper."
Eventually, kids do start picking up on those nuances. They seem to home right
in on the words that freak Mommy out (which isn't hard if they've been paying
any attention to her face). Then they will "innocently" repeat these words.
This results in the terrifying "Bad-Language Blame Face," which is something
you don't ever want to see. (Indeed the only way to make your situation worse
at this point is to laugh when the child repeats the bad word. While you will
instantly become the child's favorite grown-up, the child's parents may
entertain taking legal action.)
As the child reaches this truly impressionable age, parents become capricious
and arbitrary in the way they apply the rules. Even if you, like me, have made
Herculean efforts to refrain from the Big Nasty words in the presence of
children, one day you will get the "look" for saying a word that has never, in
the history of the English language, been considered even slightly off-color.
One day, while visiting my sister and my four-year-old niece, I got the "look"
for saying the word "crap." I mean, you can say "crap" on the After-School
Special, can't you? Clearly, the whole bad-language thing has become nothing
more than a thinly veiled power play. Once a mother gets a taste of the power
of the "look," she can't help but get carried away. In fact, I once got the
look for saying a bad word in a private conversation with a mother whose child
was watching television in the next room.
And this brings us to the third problem -- foolish application. Because guess
what that small child was watching on television while I was getting the
"look"? Something extremely violent, judging by all the gunfire I could hear in
the next room. But it's a darn good thing that kid didn't hear me say "shit" as
he was watching that chick with the bikini top firing an Uzi into a gang of
mobsters. It might have seriously stunted his development into a good person.
Kris Frieswick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Issue Date: June 14 - 20, 2002